Thursday, March 20, 2008

Armagnac An Old Wine

The House of Ryst-Dupeyron, was founded in 1905 by Joseph Dupeyron. The offices occupy the elegant Hôtel de Cugnac, a private home dating from the XVIII Century, set on the edge of the historic center of the town of Condom, while the wine and Armagnac stores, and an old distillery, are housed in the cellars and former conservatory in the grounds.

Today, the House of Ryst-Dupeyron's two main activities are run by the founder's great-grandchildren.

Armagnacs Dupeyron possesses an original and high quality range of spirits aged in oak barrels. The house owns an exceptional collection of vintage Armagnacs the oldest of which goes back to the last century. In Condom visitors are always welcome. Guided visits of the cellars, called "chais", and tastings are organized.
Armagnac is the oldest wine eau-de-vie produced in the South West of the France, in the heart of Gascogny. It is produced by distilling white wine in an Armagnac still and aged for many years in oak barrels before coming to market. It comes in blends, or, as is specific to Armagnac, in vintages.

The local soils and distillation method meet rules defined by the AOC obtained by Armagnac in 1936.

Above all, Armagnac is a craft product, made in small quantities by vine growers and wine merchants who carry on the old methods and techniques. The diversity of the local soils and grape varieties impart a rich and diverse character on the eau-de-vie, similar to the natural surroundings and craftsmen who make it.

The French paradox:

The concept of "French Paradox" has prompted numerous teams of researchers to specify the role of alcohol, grape and wood tannins in the benefits of moderate consumption of wine or alcoholic beverages. For Armagnac, recent scientific works show that this eau-de-vie has known therapeutic capacities. Its properties are due to the wood tannins that it contains following the long aging process in oak barrels. Another medical team has also just proved the protective role Armagnac in blood platelet clumping (one of the causes behind cardio-vascular illnesses). All these observations tend to prove that moderate consumption of Armagnac (which is, after all, the best way of savoring it) is part, along with all the gastronomic products of South West France, of a diet and lifestyle which favors the good health of the region's population.

Of the ten grape varieties authorized in Armagnac production, four in particular leave their imprint on the eau-de-vie:

Ugni-blanc is the distillation variety par excellence. It produces acidic wines with low alcohol content which, after distillation, produces fine and high quality eaux-de-vie. This grape variety is equally adaptable to Bas-Armagnac and Armagnac-Ténarèze.

Folle Blanche is the best known. This is the historic Armagnac variety which dominated the wine area before its destruction by phylloxera in 1878: it was then called piquepoult or "pinched lips". As its graft stock is now hard to cultivate, it is poorly represented amongst the grape varieties. Folle Blanche produces fine eaux-de-vie, often floral and extremely elegant, particularly valued in White and young Armagnacs.

Baco 22 A is unusual in the French viticulture landscape. It is a hybrid, daughter of the Folle Blanche and Noah grapes invented by a teacher from the Landes region, Mr Baco, in the aftermath of the phylloxera epidemic. It is especially suited to the sandy soils of the Bas-Armagnac region where it gives very round eaux-de-vie, with suave essences and ripe fruit aromas, particularly after a long aging process.

Columbus is now appreciated and heavily used in Vins de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne wine production . Its distillation is confidential; its fruity and spicy aromas are appreciated in blends.

Distillation takes place during the winter, at the latest by the 31st March of the year following the crop; for the last 3 years, this date has been set by national decree;

The wine is often distilled on the estate, sometimes using a mobile distiller which moves from winery to winery to distill the vine growers' wine. It is also produced in distillation workshops by professional distillers and cooperative cellars.

The essential part of Armagnac (approximately 95%) is obtained with a still which is very specific to this eau-de-vie: the continuous Armagnac still.. This is a pure copper apparatus, which was patented in 1818 and has since been adapted, modified, and improved by regional distillers. It genuinely forms part of the character of Armagnac.

Double distillation is also used by some Armagnac houses who have remained very attached to it.

Immediately after distillation, Armagnac is put to age in "casks": these are 400-litre oak barrels, mainly from the forests of Gascogny and Limousin. These casks are stored in wineries where the temperature and humidity are important to the quality of the aging process. From then on, the cellar master supervises the development of his eaux-de-vie:

the extraction of the cask's tannic compounds and aromas

the evaporation of part of the eau-de-vie and a reduction in the degree of alcohol (approximately a 1/2 degree per year), what is known as "the angel's share"

the growth of aromas from the wood and wine through the slow oxidation of the Armagnac, in contact with the air through the barrel.

The eaux-de-vie remains in new casks until the wood materials are optimally dissolved. They are then transferred to older barrels to prevent excessive wood flavors from being infused in the Armagnac, and to continue its slow development: the woody substances are refined, the vanilla and prune aromas grow, the "maderization" character begins to appear, and the alcoholic content drops progressively through the evaporation of alcohol (which is "the angel's share"). The eau-de-vie takes a beautiful amber color; later changing to mahogany.

When the Cellar Master considers the aging sufficient, he begins "mixing": harmoniously blending various eaux-de-vie of different origins and ages. The alcohol content (minimum 40% by volume) can be obtained by progressively adding "petites eaux" made up of a mixture of distilled water and Armagnac.


Vintages, specific to Armagnac, correspond exclusively to the year of the crop.

Reduction is not practiced here, because the aging winery is humid, and the eaux-de-vie are sold at their natural degree of aging, which generally falls between 40% and 48% by volume..

The Armagnac ceases to age once bottled. The bottle must be stored upright so that the alcohol does not reach the cork.


Tasting Armagnac is firstly an exercise in the history of pleasure and curiosity.

Take a ball shaped glass, which gets nice and warm when you spend long minutes tasting with the glass cupped in your hand; or a tulip shaped glass which concentrates the flavors and allows you to taste more quickly and precisely. Pour some Armagnac into the glass, just 2 or 3 cl is enough, then gentle shake the Armagnac with a circular motion to wet the walls of the glass.

Armagnac should first be tasted with your eyes
The eau-de-vie is shiny, the color golden, amber or mahogany, which is the logical color development brought about by aging.

It will sharpen the curiosity the nose
Before tasting in the mouth, smell the Armagnac gently, with your nose out of the glass and without agitating it so that the aromatic power does not overwhelm you. The first impression is forceful as the alcohol rises; but don't stop there, the Armagnac's treasure lies elsewhere, a few seconds later. The aromas can be categorized in different aromatic families depending on the age and quality of the Armagnac:

fruity aromas: here you'll find nuances of quince, grape and plum, and then with age, prune, orange or apricot conserve

floral aromas: vine blossom, honey or lime...

woody aromas: vanilla, spicy, grilled ... maderization: this is the measure of the Armagnac's maturity, it reveals most notably dry

fruit aromas: walnuts and hazelnut.

The intricacy of the aroma, combining several types of flavor, is itself a gauge of the quality of the Armagnac.

In the mouth, power and unctuousness confront each other

Take a sip, paying attention to the succession of flavors in the mouth. The attack is very subtle, the development warm, before the Armagnac assumes its full place. We speak about its volume, unctuousness, richness, and all terms to describe its structure. The aromatic wealth begins to overcome the sensation of power. Now, you find the same aromatic variety as on the nose with prevalent woody and maderization tones.

When the glass is empty, don't abandon it, warm it between your hands and smell it: that's what we call the "bottom of the glass"; prune, spices, maderization or woody tones, the quintessence of the Armagnac is in there.

Armagnac & chocolate:

This is a marriage made in heaven when the synergy of flavors works to the good, and each is erased to emphasize the other. A moment of pure happiness.

Armagnac & cigars:

They have many points in common: those are products of artisan production, whose qualities depend on the local soil, geology, climate and craftsmen. Their diversity is impressive (chosen according to the time of day, meal, company and circumstances), the tasting important (revealing the aromas and flavors), notwithstanding the pleasure that they give...

Armagnac & coffee:

This combination places the accent on the aromas created by Armagnac's maturation process (woody, grilled, smoked, torrefaction, coffee, cocoa, etc.) which match the aromas of coffee well. The bitterness of the coffee "erases" the acidity of the eau-de-vie and reinforces its sense of fullness. An old Armagnac with fine aromas will prolong the delicious and fine flavors of a Kenyan coffee. A young and vigorous Armagnac merges well with the power of an Ethiopian coffee.